Speaking Space

James Oliver



There you are.

All around us.

This is us.

This is our story.



Some of us will find it affective,

perhaps therapeutic,

to look at the skies.


The blue skies.

The thunderous grey skies.

The night skies.


There is a sense of a scale

—a feeling, an imagining—

of relatedness.


Even infinities.


Something always beyond us but perceptible.

An opening out before us;

and still the possibility of being closed in.


An openness to include dreams,

but prone to terrors and contradictions.

Our everyday imaginings of experience

—of living.


What if everything doesn’t stay the same?

Even when it never does?


Scanning our imagination.

Flicking through books.

Thoughts infiltrated by medias.


People refracting visceral opinion,

as if fact and understanding.

Opinion as fact.


All Trumpet and no Poetry.

Is this our culture?




Remember Doreen?[i]

Space is progressive—always being made.

The togetherness of our difference.


Remember Henri and Guy?[ii]

In Paris, after the war,

after (that) fascism—place was different.


Place becomes less serious than space.

Think seriously about space.

It’s social. Political.

We make it.


It is all of us.

It’s sensory.

Open to movement.



It does not tell us what to think, or even oblige us to think

—it opens up the imagination.

Just like democracy (right?).

We all pause. Right.


The contradictory experience of finding our voice,

to be heard, and yet not always listened to.

This is also part of space,

but what of justice?


There are a few hurdles:

Entitlement. Ignorance.

Alienation. Humiliation.


Space is not exactly equal.

Debates on equality and equality in debate

are not the same thing.

Balance as bias is not equality.


How to progressively move beyond

homophobia and racism,

this is integral to maintaining positive space

—decolonial thinking is integral further.


To theorise space is not to make it abstract,

but reclaims it from a hollow category

that means everything and nothing.





We are all Australia. Can you hear us? We don’t want assurance. But are you listening? Now let us begin. Close your eyes and imagine the space between us.

What does it sound like? What do you see? Can you taste anything? What time is it?


In the beginning, there was only space. That space between us and everything before us. In the beginning, we knew how to swim before we knew we could breathe—like all mammals—we had our world, deepened in another. Yet we felt free. Until our sovereignty was denied. Breeched. Ruptured. Like the fate of Caesar. And we are opened up to the new world. Given over to a new way of living. In the new beginning, there was the Crown and it knew nothing. But it became everything. It knew all things and delivered all evils. Speak your space. Maybe you’ll be heard. Don’t expect anyone to listen.


According to historians[iii], in the first decade of colonial settlement of what is now known as Gippsland, there were three spaces of language— the languages of the Gunaikurnai tribes, varieties of English, and Gàidhlig.


Hallo! Hello! Ciamar a tha sibh? How are you? Co às a tha sibh? Where are you from? Who are you from? This is standard Gàidhlig, commonly called Scottish Gaelic (in English), or just Gaelic (as opposed to Irish or Manx). Can you hear? Are you listening? Don’t you have to? Did you know that there is no official language in Australia—just a de facto English language; de facto colonial imagining.


There are 38 First Nation languages in Victoria.


Told and untold, histories are more than an accounting of, or recounting of facts and figures. Histories are also spaces—active and opening—part of our living human sensibility of situating experiences and understanding—known and unknown, seen and unseen, heard and unheard.


The words here are blurred. Blurry. Not a genre. A sound. A song. Listen for a voice, perhaps your own. Begin again if you want to. We are telling a story. Listen to the sound in language and ideas, the spaces of transition. Relations—human, material, social, cultural—moving across the only ocean, the only sky, all places coming into relation. A space. We have all come a long way—has this all happened before?


Some of us are illegals, of course, and have been detained by democracy—from voting, marrying, occupying. Some of us are just detained and sent out of sight. In other spatial dimensions, some are illegal, but are de facto (obviously), so carry on with an entitlement and imagining to represent social space—except when they don’t actually want to stand with our social space—a particular, spatial (mis)conception of culture and justice.


Epeli Hauʻofa’s words ripple towards us in analogue. He conceptualises Oceania as not just islands in the sea; rather, ‘Our Sea of Islands’[iv], where people and culture are spatially related, connected by the sea, not separated by it.


To conceive of the world as one ocean (one sky), brings us all into social and spatial relation. We are all emergent in and encompassed by diaspora, connected like a ‘sea of islands’ dispersed and differentiated across the world. Yet, we forget how we got here—and that we got here. Over our seas and under our rainbows.


If a rainbow is a promise of safe tomorrows, then it is for all. Even on our own comfortable shores. Privilege is a structure, not an identity.






[i] Doreen Massey

[ii] Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord

[iii] Don Watson, ‘Introduction’, in Laurie Duggan, The Ash Range, Picador/Pan Books, London, 1987, p10.

[iv] Epeli Hauʻofa, Our Sea of Islands, The Contemporary Pacific, Volume 6, No. 1, 1994

James Oliver is a transdisciplinary academic and writer from the Isle of Skye, who currently lives in Narrm Melbourne. He has worked in the social...

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